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A history of capital punishment in NZ

Published: 4:39PM Wednesday December 17, 2008 Source: ONE News

The grave of the only woman to be hanged in New Zealand, Minnie Dean , is finally being recognised with a memorial.

The following is a brief overview of New Zealand's history of capital punishment.

Capital punishment was introduced to the country soon after it officially became a British territory.

A young man by the name of Maketu had the unfortunate "honour" of being the first New Zealander put to death in March 1842. He had been found guilty of killing five people.

Between then and the abolition of the death penalty in New Zealand in 1961, more than 80 people were executed.

Dean was the only woman ever hanged. She was convicted of killing a six-month-old baby in 1895 but protested her innocence to her last breath.

The method of execution in New Zealand was always hanging, and crimes punishable by death were murder, treason and piracy.

Eventually, hangings could only be carried out in two cities - Auckland and Wellington. To begin with, there was no professional executioner - anyone deemed "qualified" could carry out the job.

However, after a recommendation from a Blenheim sheriff, a professional hangman was employed - an Irishman named Tom Long. His future colleagues remained anonymous.

The Labour government of 1935 commuted death sentences to life in prison, although this applied to murder only. Piracy and treason were still punishable by death. When the National Party took back power in 1950, they restored the death penalty for murder.

Walter Bolton was the last person to be executed in New Zealand. He was hanged in 1957, after being found guilty of poisoning his wife. It is alleged that Bolton's execution went terribly wrong and that he suffered a slow strangulation when his neck failed to break.

The death penalty for murder was finally abolished in New Zealand in 1961, after a conscience vote in parliament.

"Treason, mutiny and treachery" were still punishable by death up until 1989, when the Labour government passed the Abolition of the Death Penalty Act.

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